Greetings once again from the Target Center. Youngblood reporting; Jerry will be back in action tomorrow.
Pretty entertaining game tonight, wasn't it? Finally, the Wolves win a game and it's actually on television, so you folks all saw what I saw. And so, the question: What was the most impressive thing about tonight's victory?
To me it was the defense. Yes, the defense. Not Beasley's 30 points. Not the fact that Wes Johnson seemingly couldn't miss a shot (he was 6-for-8 on three-pointers for crying out loud). Not Ridnour's 11 assists to go with 12 points, not the fact that all five Wolves starters were in double figures for just the second time this season.
The defense. How often do you have a guy like Chris Paul complaining that his team couldn't get its offense going when it needed to? Not often against a Wolves team that has struggled with defensive rotation and weak-side help all season.
After a crummy first quarter in which the Wolves seemed lost on defense -- it looked like David West would score 40; only Darko! scoring 10 in the quarter kept the game from getting away -- the Wolves held the Hornets to 22, 20 and 21 points over the final three quarters.
In the third quarter, while the Wolves built a lead that at one point reached 11 points, the Hornets shot 33.3 percent. In the fourth quarter, which began with the Wolves leading by just five, the Hornets made just five of 16 shots while the Wolves, shooting over 50 percent, started the final quarter on an 18-9 run to take control for good.
"Coaches are always after perfection," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said of the team's weak-side help. "We did it well enough to get the numbers we were after. We'll go back and look at the tape and see a lot of (mistakes). But, for the most part, in the second half, we were much more active. We keep encouraging the weak side help. It's one of the things we've been working out. Our weak side (help) has to be a huge chunk of us getting stops."
It sure was Monday, especially in the crucial fourth quarter. Weak side help allowed Jonny Flynn and Ridnour to overplay Paul, knowing there would be help. The result? Paul had two fourth-quarter points. David West looked all world while scoring 11 first-quarter points. But he scored just 12 over the final three.
And the team showed poise. There was a point in the fourth quarter when Flynn was called for a foul then got a technical for complaining about it. The resulting three-point play pulled the Hornets within 11 with 5:21 left. But Beasley came right down and hit a runner. After a Hornets miss Beasley fed Johnson for a three-pointer and the lead was 16. Game over.
It's too early to say whether this team has turned a corner, or is even approaching a corner. But the improvement on defense is hard to miss. The Wolves are 6-1 when opponents scored less than 100 points. They've won their last five such games, and their second straight.
That's about it. Have a good night.